Describes the trends in living alone and describes the characteristics of people who live alone.
Living alone is increasingly on the public radar. One in four Australian households is a lone-person household, and rates have increased sharply since the 1970s. Throughout the Western world lone-person households have become increasingly common, and this trend is spreading to non-Western countries. In some quarters these developments have been interpreted as signifying a decline of commitment to family living, increasing social fragmentation and a rise in loneliness. For others, the growth in living alone has been celebrated as reflecting the greater choice that people have in their living arrangements and lifestyle.
But to appreciate the meaning and significance of living alone we must understand more about the make-up of those living alone. Who is living alone? Which social groups are driving this change? We also must understand more about the nature of living alone, its duration, where it fits into the life course and its links with social connection and wellbeing. Do people tend to live alone for short periods, or is it a long-term arrangement? To what extent do people choose to live alone and like living alone? How lonely are those who live alone? Why do they commence living alone and why do they stop? It is only when we can answer these questions that we can begin to understand its significance.
This paper describes the trends in living alone and describes the characteristics of people who live alone. It will show that within this single category of "living alone" there is tremendous diversity and that living alone has very different meanings within the various sub-groups. It will show that any characterisation of living alone as "fragmentation" or as "freedom" is simplistic.
To explore the nature of living alone, a second paper will look at how long people live alone, when they live alone, and how moving into and out of living alone arrangements affects the wellbeing and social connection of those living alone.